The Challenges of Being Sikh and LGBTQ+
Thank you to St Luke’s Community Centre for hosting July’s Open Minds (Khula Mana) LGBTQ+ Support Group. The group was facilitated by Dr Kuljit Bhogal on behalf of Sarbat and Taraki. This is a summary of some of the group discussion.
The Sikh community is a complex and diverse group. This diversity extends to how they practice the Sikh faith and their views on LGBTQ+ issues. Sikhs born in different countries, Sikhs from non-Indian heritage and Sikhs who have joined the faith as adults are also members of this group but are less visible in the UK.
In the group’s experience, the core values of the faith which include kindness, humility and a personal relationship to God are frequently distorted by groups or individuals motivated by ego or self-interest. This distortion also occurs in some Gurdwaras where internal politics seem to be more important than the values of the faith and it has stopped some sections of the Sikh community worshipping in Gurdwaras.
As far as we understand, there is no explicit contradiction in being Sikh and LGBTQ+. The faith requires individuals to recognise and eliminate the 5 vices and this applies equally to everyone. We talked about how the faith states that individuals must develop their personal connection to God through prayer and meditation. The faith does not encourage or promote the judgement of others, especially to exclude or isolate them, for their sexuality, gender or if they have a disability.
Those who had grown up in the Sikh community explained that ‘religious’ rules and practices were handed down to them from older generations with little explanation or dialogue. Although these rules often conflicted with Sikh values, they were required to follow these rules without question. These experiences led some of the group becoming disillusioned with the faith in their childhood and either rediscovering the faith as adults or leaving the faith altogether.
Social rules that are dressed up as religious practices are common across all religions. In the Sikh community, looking religious is a way that some individuals maintain or increase their social status. Sometimes this outward show of ‘religiousness’ is shown by judging the apparent deficiencies of others.
We talked about how power and control in social groups is commonly achieved through shaming or excluding individuals. Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ people are still vulnerable to this kind of shaming and exclusion and trying to be Sikh and LGBTQ+ can be a lonely experience.
Religion continues to be felt as a toxic influence in the lives of many LGBTQ+ people but our discussion kept returning to the idea that much of the toxicity is due to the attitudes of individuals or groups rather than the teachings of the faith itself.
Those that practice the faith were frustrated with not having a voice in religious spaces. They also felt that Gurudwaras in the UK should have diversity training to teach them about sexuality, disability and race. It is hoped that Sarbat and Taraki can take some of these ideas forward in the future.
Our next meeting will be held on Wednesday the 28th of August (6-8pm) at St Luke’s community centre and the topic will be migration, race and ethnicity and how they intersect with a LGBTQ+ identity.
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